It was only once we underwent the Practicum part of the training that the requirements for the outdoor area were made fully known. It was more of a challenge to find suitable safe outdoor areas in a school than we had anticipated. The training identified specific requirements for carrying out the sessions and we had to change from the school originally planned to another, with very similar levels of deprivation and need, in order to secure a safe and appropriate space.
We planned and delivered whole school training for a variety of staff, including the site supervisor and school secretary! The school we worked in is in a significantly deprived area, with a community massively impacted by the pandemic. The whole of Swansea was shocked and traumatised by the riots. The school played a vital role in supporting families, providing work from home projects, foodbank deliveries, evening entertainment e.g discos via Zoom etc.
They have a whole school approach to the wellbeing of pupils and community, and this matched really well with the project and the theme of improving mental well-being. The school staff reported that post pandemic there were significant changes in many pupils with increased dysregulation, anxiety, aggressive behaviours, and behaviours associated with ADHD and ASD. The impact of the trauma of the pandemic and pre-existing trauma was significant, raising many causes for concern. The after-effects of the pandemic on staff were also really obvious evident.
We received funding for Sensory Attachment training in two programmes
The majority of this ended up being delivered online due to the effects of the pandemic, but the Immersive Practicum was in-person.
Additional training needs were highlighted during the course and we had to add these into the project, eg Wilderness First Aid course, supervision session. We were able to cover the costs of these from the savings on mileage and accommodation due to more of the training being online than anticipated.
The equipment recommended by the Ecosensory trainers had specific requirements for setup and safety aspects that the school was uncomfortable with, so we were unable to utilise everything. Some would also have required ‘working at height’ training for Adenydd personnel.
We quickly found that we had to teach/learn regulation strategies and skills in an enclosed, safe environment before utilising those outdoors, as the children otherwise became too dysregulated to safely manage. We used a small community centre adjacent to the school and this quiet, contained space proved ideal. During outdoor sessions (when the weather permitted) we found the children were more dysregulated and a few even specified that they preferred working indoors.
Both the Ecosensory and the Just Right State training have greatly increased the knowledge base within Adenydd, and we have shared this with the pilot school. Staff, professionals and children have been helped to develop their understanding of regulation, impacting on their access to education, relationships and life skills. Both Adenydd personnel and school staff will take this knowledge forward with them into everything that they do in the future. We learned a lot about using the school environment and naturally occurring opportunities to provide sensory regulating activities, eg we developed sensory walks in school corridors.
We took two children with regulation needs requiring additional support from five different classes, with staff from each class to spread the learning as much as possible. We helped staff to use existing outdoor equipment to support sensory regulation and providing structured opportunities for children to use this more constructively. Even simple things like using the water tray in new ways that supported regulation, eg blowing bubbles through a straw, were inventive ways we found to include sensory regulating activities into the typical school day.
We guided and advised the school staff on how to increase the structure within the school day and within activities to provide the safety and security that many of the children needed. We introduced relational play activities with a sensory regulatory element to them that not only helped sensory regulation but also supported the building of relationship between the staff and pupils.
We helped the school staff to better understand trauma responses, which often are seen as ‘challenging behaviours’ and provided strategies to support and regulate children in school, including how and when to use them. This led to fewer ‘outbursts’ and ‘meltdowns’ and less interruptions to learning for other children.
School staff felt equipped and empowered to support the children more effectively.
Children learned awareness of different feelings and what makes them feel ‘just right’, with some children accepting nurture from an adult for the first time – pseudo-independence is not healthy for children.
Staff were encouraged to also look after their own well-being and we discussed ways for staff to recognise their stress and strategies to help support them and for them also to model it to the children. School staff have been massively impacted by the pandemic and are now witnessing the effects on the children which is also hard for them to see.
The children (and staff) were supported to recognise when they were feeling ‘Just right’ and what things they can do to help them feel like that. Many children were in a constant state of fear and were unable to recognise feeling just right and happy or “just better”, as one pupil called it!
In one session a little boy said “It feels like someone is kicking in my chest” whilst pointing to his heart area after doing some physical exercise – this is interoception, which is one of the senses and it tends to be underdeveloped where there has been trauma. It was as if it was the first time that he had noticed his heart beating hard. We told him “It is your heart’s way of showing you that you have been working hard”. He loved this idea!
The whole school staff received training in Sensory Regulation in preparation for the project and individual staff involved in the project received additional training during practical sessions with the children. The interest was so great amongst the staff that we didn’t get a lunch break on the days we were in school as so many staff wanted to discuss the needs of the children in their classes, even when they weren't directly involved in the project. We also had a high level of interest from parents and carers and would love the opportunity to develop some support for these at some stage.
Indirectly, all pupils in the school benefitted from their peers who get more easily dysregulated being less disruptive to everyone’s learning as evidenced by comments from school staff. Strategies employed with children who presented with more significant challenges were also implemented for less challenging children who still needed support but had perhaps previously been overlooked.
We have already had a new request for input from a school in another LA that heard from school staff about the work we were doing and the positive impact.
The school’s Flying Start Manager was also telling another Flying Start Manager and the Flying Start ALN Manager about the impact.
We also did an impromptu training session for the Community Focus School Manager when she visited the community centre when we were there.